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Bill Bailey: The Pioneer Of The Moonwalk

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Never out of a job in his heyday, he became even more popular in the 1940’s to an even broader audience by having a major part in the 1st major market movie for blacks that featured the most popular black entertainers of their era, Eddie Rochester Anderson, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Louis Armstrong and John W. Sublet and much more, ‘Cabin In The Sky’ (1942).  It is in this movie you can see Bill perform the ‘moonwalk’ and this was the first time it was caught on film, although he invented the dance in the late 1920’s.

Very popular on the famous Ed Sullivan show and even performing with his sister Pearl several times, he was also wildly popular at the Apollo as he was the main attraction on many occasions.  For his era (1930’s-1950’s) he was considered the 2nd most popular rhythm tap dancer (John W. Bubbles was 1st) but Bailey was obvious more innovative because of his style and the dance he invented, ‘The Backslide’ but you all know it as the ‘Moonwalk’  He influenced a few different generations after his era was over, everyone from Sammy Davis Jr. to Gregory Hines and of course, the late Michael Jackson.  Michael knew exactly who Bill Bailey was and was not afraid to tell anyone that the creator of his most famous dance the ‘Moonwalk’ was Bill Bailey.  Tap dancing gave way to a more new style of dancers such as James Brown, Jackie Wilson, etc., so Bill retired in 1965 and became a very popular pastor in Harlem, only returning to dancing when his church needed funds.  He would preach in the name of Jesus until his passing on December 12, 1978.  ‘Til this very day, many of you still perform his dance, so it’s safe to say his legacy will always live on.

Check this Apollo performance with host Willie Bryant (a very famous bandleader and tap dancer himself) in 1955.  This performance was Bailey’s tribute to his good friend and mentor Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson (May 25, 1878 – November 25, 1949) and he performs some Bojangles dance moves, also keep an eye on how he keeps the rhythm with his feet.  However, he doesn’t perform Bojangles dance moves for long.  At the  1:39 mark, Bill goes into his OWN steps and things get interesting.  Before he leaves the stage, he does the dance that has lasted for over 80 years, the ‘Backslide’ (read his lips and you will see him say ‘backslide’).

That’s a little history for ya…

But it goes a long way huh?

Bill Bailey…

The pioneer of the Moonwalk.

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